Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Grateful Week: Wednesday

I belong to a really wonderful women's singing group. We are a non-auditioned group of about 80 women who have been given the gift of song by our wonderful director. She has made music available to us, some of whom would have no other outlet for it, and she handpicks tunes that nourish our souls as well as the souls of our audience.

Last week we had our last rehearsal of the semester until the new year. It was an emotional time of goodbyes, and gratitudes. As we expressed to her our thanks for all that she gifts us with, she turned and gave it right back to us with the wish that we would each own our own beauty as we left rehearsal that night. That stayed with me. That, and her admonition that even if we spent Thanksgiving alone this season, we ought to be thankful for ourselves. That had never occurred to me, just as owning my own beauty had not.

So today I do the hard thing, to list the things in myself that I honor, love and appreciate. Why is it so much easier to list the things I dislike or wish to change? But this is an important list. I encourage you to join me in writing this list. What things about you are you grateful for? It might even be something you weren't aware of until someone pointed it out to you; or something you admire in others which makes you realize it is somewhere within you too -- which is why it resonated so deeply. What makes you special? I guarantee there are many more things than you will even think of.

On to my list:

*I have a sense of humor. Most of the time only my family gets it, but it does indeed exist! I also have a vast array of facial expressions much to most people's amusement.
*I am self-aware. This is something I surely developed in years of therapy, mixed with being naturally introspective. I've come to see it as a real assett upon the discovery that the average person does not seem to display or develop this trait. What self-awwareness means, to me, is the conscious knowledge that you're 'doing it again' when you get stuck in a personality pattern that you are trying to leave behind. To be honest, even just knowing your patterns at all is an important step in self-awareness that many have not taken. When was the last time you told a friend that they "always do --- when --- happens" and they said "I DO?!" The self-aware person probably already knows, and if he/she doesn't, they will take your insight to heart and really listen to it, for it is a help, not an attack or a criticism. Self-awareness is the first step in self-correction, and is kindred spirits with thoughtfulness.
*Which brings me to thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is self-awareness turned outwards. It is considering how your actions affect other people. I do this in many small ways: always leaving a decent tip; moving quickly across the road when a car so kindly stops to let me go, so as not to hold them up unnecessarily; not taking the last paper towel without replacing the roll. These sorts of things are small and perhaps unnoticed, but as I participate in them, they remind me how much I value human decency. And the best way to contribute to creating more of something in the world is by embodying it in any way you can.
*I'm a writer, with killer language skills. I'm always getting asked to proofread things for other people. So that is a value I can add; but for myself, I appreciate my ability to express what is going on in my heart using the written word, because it is the simplest, most organic path to self-understanding that I have access to.
*I don't bore easily! I am too interested in EVERYTHING! If anything, I am a scatter-brain for reading too many books at once, and obsessing over too many tv shows, ideas, or blogs. My sisters and I have dubbed ourselves "media junkies". Book stores are like drug dealers to us; ditto With Netflix' new straight-to-PC service now in beta for Mac, I watched four movies on my computer in two days! That in addition to a disc full of Battlestar Galactica Season 2 episodes.
*I persevere. On the surface, a person might protest that I quit things all the time; however, when I do, it is because I am aware that the pursuit of the goal is not adding anything positive to my life. In the ways that I like to think it counts, I persevere. Life has handed me bunches of lemons over the years, and I know that is true of most people; I don't belong to a special 'club' of people who have been wronged. Sometimes perseverance to me is simply breathing, or simply getting out of bed. But I still believe in living, in a way that means thriving, not merely surviving.

I've far from perfect, and even this short list was a hard list to write, but knowing what I appreciate in myself gives me something really positive to build on. I hope you'll do this exercise and find the same true for you.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grateful Week: Tuesday

Originally uploaded by soularchitect
Holidays are supposed to be a happy time of year, but for those who have lost someone close, that feeling of loss can be magnified by the holiday season. The days are filled with memories of past holidays with the loved one, and that strange, new emptiness of not having them around anymore. This year marks our fifth Christmas without my mother, the finest matriarch, the funniest, silliest, sweetest woman you could ever meet, who adopted all my friends as her own children and made sure our shoelaces were always tied and our bellies fullfullfull. She had a laugh that sounded like she was hyperventilating. She'd raise her chin in the air and close her eyes and make this silly face, sometimes with one arm raised up and dancing in circles around the kitchen. To me, she simply WAS Christmas.

Despite the fact that my mother's laugh does not decorate my Christmases anymore, and I don't get to hug her on Christmas morning as she puts icing on the cinnamon rolls when they come out of the oven (now I am pulling them out of my own oven).. well, despite all that, I am intensely grateful. I had my mother for twenty-nine glorious Christmases, for close to twenty-nine glorious years I got to call this wonderful woman "Mummie"! I was really and truly blessed.

She saw me through rough patches in my childhood, including my parents' divorce when I was just barely school age. She nursed me back to health with her love whenever I got the sniffles or the flu. She threw a party for me when I had my First Communion; ditto when I turned 10. She endured slumber parties with screaming girls, my begging to stay up late, and years of music videos and strange, loud tunes coming from my room. She stirred my before-bed chocolate milk and solved all my problems with ice cream. She made a mean spaghetti sauce unlike any other. She took me to see Pretty in Pink and she mended my clothes, which were always somehow getting destroyed. She indulged me whenever I came home with another pet, or when I begged to let me keep the runt of our cat's litter, a long-haired Maine Coon we called Woodrow. She let me stay home from school the day after he was hit by a car, while our neighbor took him away and buried him for us.

I love my Mummie, and that alone keeps her alive, for which I am so very, very grateful.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grateful Week: Monday

I try to keep gratitude lists on a regular basis, but seeing as this week is Thanksgiving in the States, I decided I would post daily about ones that have been brought to mind by the beginning of the holiday season.

To start, I am thankful for Jimmy Stewart!. More particularly, I am thankful for his penchant to play so very well the role of the underdog trying to live by a higher code of ethics than those around him. For his great lines and speeches, the ones that help me remember, in day-to-day life, to make decisions based on my conscience, rather than on what is easy to do. I watch It's A Wonderful Life yearly, but it's been some time since I watched Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, so last night I watched it via Netflix (using Microsoft Silverlight which is in beta for Mac). I giggled to see the actors who play Uncle Billy, Ma Bailey and Mr. Gower as various characters in the life of Jefferson Smith. I laughed out loud at Senator Smith's excitement seeing the Capitol building, and sniffled at his overwhelm viewing the Lincoln Memorial and reading the words of the Gettysburg Address. I sniffled and I giggled and I wept, thinking about what real opportunity we have for change right at this very moment, when we need a good, honest man to stand up for the truth. The movie got me feeling downright patriotic. Take this line from his first days in office:

You see, boys forget what their country means by just reading The Land of the Free in history books. Then they get to be men they forget even more. Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that.

Today, I'm also grateful for:

*my healthy kitties and their snuggles
*my four fabulous sisters
*songs to sing that make me cry, such as "Amazing Grace" and "There's A River Flowin' In My Soul"
*Hot chocolate
*Toasty Thinsulate earmuffs!
*Suzi Blu and her Be.Divine December workshop!
*fashion magazines
*art supplies and big sales like Michael's had yesterday! I got an embellished butterfly, some ribbon, a tiny dragonfly paper-cut, some tiny circular mirrors and stick-on jewel-tone dots!
*sweet potato casserole
*cinnamon rolls
*corn muffins
*glittery, sparkly Christmas cards and red and green pens!
*friends on flickr who loan me glorious items, such as a black feather boa!
*Netflix! And Battlestar Galactica!
*Making a few extra bucks online doing surveys and the like
*The smell of pine trees!
* Reading Galadarling's blog.

Stay tuned for Tuesday's edition of Thankful Week!

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Man With the Weight of the World on His Shoulders

Hope Has Arrived
Originally uploaded by sreichenbach.

So many thoughts about what America means to me have tumbled around my head in the past week. I needed to really understand them, weigh them, qualify them, allow them to be heard within, before I could write this post. I needed to come down from the high. Not completely, though. If it were just a singular high, a zero-calorie burst of excitement, I would feel the same today about my country as I did a month ago. But something really and truly is forever changed.

Obama walked into Grant Park on Election Night, casual-like, as though he were walking into his own living room. And isn't all of America his living room now? Yet his face and his demeanor spoke of something else, something more humble than victory. He looked like a man carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

He never promised us he would get the job all done on his own. He always said, "With your help." As I watched him enter Grant Park with his shoulders heavy, I heard the words inside myself, "How can I help?" This man has already proven his commitment to us; and while his victory inspires us all, it can't be an inspiration that we hang onto for just a single day. President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama is just ONE man. One man carrying the weight of millions of people who expect him to renew for us the American Dream, something that requires a lot more skill that renewing a library book.

My best friend said to me today "Don't you feel like you have your country back? I FINALLY feel attached to it now." Yes, yes, YES and YESSSSSSS. It isn't just about having Democrats back in the White House. I am not so naive as to believe it is really the party that makes all the difference -- Obama is going into the White House under the same system of politics as the last guy. But what Obama HAS done is remind us that this country is OURS. He has lit a fire under us. So I know now that the real specter of our time was not Republican rule by rich white guys, not even bureaucracy -- but APATHY.

No longer. We participated in the process; and democracy only exists with participation. I daresay with this new gift of the New Dream comes new and enormous responsibilities for all of us. It is as though we were all elected President that day. We all have a part to play. It does not end with voting. Yes, we have woken up. We have been reminded, by one great man, that the return of greatness to our nation -- yes, the American Dream -- is within our grasp if we dare to dream and we dare to reach for it. And only by participating do we extend our reach.

So we begin now. Not 74 days from now, not when it's time for another election. Not standing back and saying "Okay now, Obama will fix it." This is our country. This is our dream. It is our time to wake up and live that dream. To demand it of our legislators and Congresspeople and our local businesses and school boards. To pay attention to the world around us. To extend our hands to help our neighbors. To fill the volunteer positions that are everywhere to be found when we look. To donate our money and our efforts to local food banks and organizations as well organizations that assist people in other nations, such as Kiva, Women for Women International and the many others doing great work across the world. Be civic minded. Demand civics education be returned to our school curriculums. Stop thinking in black and white, Republican vs. Democrat, stop thinking about drawing those lines in the sand.

If you have yet to visit, I urge you to go. See what Obama has outlined for us. See what you can do. He believes in an open government and wants to hear your ideas and your concerns.

But whatever the new dream means to you, make a commitment, today, not tomorrow, to not return to apathy; to keep the Obama family in your prayers and daily surrounded in light, as they are now our family; to participate in the reach for the American Dream that is not just yours but also your neighbors', your friends', your co-workers', and belonging to conservatives and liberals alike. If we all step up and do the work, there is simply nothing we as a nation cannot achieve.

I want to thank those people around the world who have been watching us and who have been hoping and praying for us to have this chance. Let us show them it was not a wasted chance.

In the words of Bill S. Preston, Esq: Be excellent to each other.